Joakim Soria disappointed in his first season with the Oakland Athletics. But his 2019 campaign was not as bad as it seemed.
The Oakland Athletics had high hopes for Joakim Soria when they signed him to a two year deal worth $15 million, it was hoped that he would be a part of the answer in the bullpen. Soria had a track record of success, even if his days as a closer were long behind him. He was a worthwhile gamble for the usually cost-conscious A’s.
In the first year of that contract, Soria failed to live up to expectations. He posted a 4.30 ERA, the worst mark of his 12 years in the majors. Soria also allowed nine homers, with each one seemingly coming in a key spot. In fact, Soria seemed to wilt under the pressure, a familiar knock on him over the past few years.
Yet, there were reasons for encouragement. Soria maintained his typical command and ability to miss bats, as he posted a 2.6 BB/9 and a 10.3 K/9 rate, striking out 79 batters with just 20 walks over his 69 innings. He also allowed just 51 hits, holding opponents to a .608 OPS. Essentially, he turned opponents into something between Tyler White and Daniel Robertson.
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Likewise, different metrics paint a rosier picture of Soria’s performance in 2019. He posted a 3.62 FIP, a mark that was 68 points below his ERA, while holding opponents to a .253 batting average on balls in play. The problems came when the opposition was able to make contact, as he allowed a 27% line drive rate and a 3.2% home run rate, both of which were the second worst marks of his career.
As a fly ball pitcher, Soria was undoubtedly hurt by the the livelier ball that had been in play over the past two years. While age may be a factor with the 35 year old reliever, Soria had his two worst seasons in regards to line drive rate in 2018 and 2019. A new ball, one that may not travel as far, could make a major difference.
At this point, Soria is expected to handle a middle relief role in the Athletics bullpen. However, given his experience, both as a closer and in a set up role, it would not be a surprise to see him return to the eighth inning. Should Soria pitch closer to his metrics in 2019, that move could happen early in the upcoming season.
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Joakim Soria was not as bad as he looked for the Oakland Athletics in 2019. There is still reason to hope that he can be a valuable part of the bullpen.